Saturday Night at The Movies

Creation Stories is a Sky Original film which attempts to dramatise the life of Creation record label founder, Alan McGee.

A quick glance at the promotional material fills you with hope:

Missing from that is that this was co-written by Irvine Welsh. But there’s Danny Boyle’s name given prominance. And although you may not recognise him from the picture, that’s Ewen Bremner in the main role.

And what a soundtrack that promises to be!

Here’s the trailer:

Looks good, right?

*Scrolls through the rest of the imdb entry*

Look, there’s actual proper acting royalty in the form of Steven Berkoff and Saskia Reeves. Actual comic acting royalty supplied by Paul Kaye, Rufus Jones and Danny John-Jules. There’s Richard Jobson, making a pretty good fist of doing something useful for the first time since The Skids split up. There’s comedians Ed Byrne as…er…Alistair Campbell (I wish I could say: “Now that’s ironic!” here, but it isn’t) and Alistair McGowan as Jimmy Savile (are you sure about this? – Ed). Blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos by Bez, Carl Barat and Brix Smith-Start. And practically the entire cast of This Is England is involved (well, the ones who haven’t gone on to super-stardom since, anyway) and that can’t be a bad thing.

Oh wait.

Danny Boyle is just the Executive Producer. Along with fourteen others (not including Co-Executive Producers). Which means he’s put some cash into the project and that’s about the end of his involvement.

Oh wait.

I don’t know if you saw it flash up in the trailer, but this is directed by Nick Moran, who also plays Malcolm McLaren. Hmm, this is starting to look less promising by the second.

And so it proves to be.

There’s an awful lot that’s wrong with Creation Stories.

The first thing is that given the vast amount of Class A drugs ingested by McGee in the film, and given he is played by Ewen Bremner – a fine actor, and no mistake – it becomes almost impossible to shake off the memory of the other drug-guzzling character he has played in a Boyle/Welsh collaboration: Spud in Trainspotting.

There’s nothing here but reminders of Spud’s most iconic moments, the interview:

and the…er…morning after scene:

(The fact that in a review of one film, I’m posting clips from an entirely different film speaks volumes.)

To be clear, I’ve seen Bremner in many other productions, and after the initial recognition has passed, not once did I have Spud on my mind. It’s not Bremner’s fault that Creation Stories is such a dud, he does the very best he can with what he’s been given. I just think they could have cast somebody who didn’t invoke all these memories and comparisons, which have an undesirable effect on his performance and the film. Although I am struggling to think of who that might be.

And what of the crowd-pleasing creatives, namely Boyle and Welsh? To be honest, I can’t see Boyle’s influence at all here, and I reckon the most that Welsh had to do with writing it was ensuring the Scottish vernacular remained honest and true. “I’ve finished the screenplay now Irvine, can you chuck some swear words in, and make sure they’re not snorting when they should be smoking?”

To drive the plot, the film uses perhaps the laziest premise for a biopic: a journalist is interviewing McGee for a retrospective article in an American paper, or magazine, or TV show, it’s not made terribly clear. His story is told via a series of anecdotes, transposed to flashbacks. This method is employed so that the narrative can jump from one momentous moment to the next without really having to explain how we got from point A to point B.

(I wasn’t taking notes, but I also suspect there were several errors in the chronology.)

And I wouldn’t get too excited about that soundtrack, for the moments when you’re swept away by the music are few and far between.

I appreciate, of course, that Creation Records were responsible for a lot of amazing output during it’s all-to-brief tenure as the self-proclaimed “Coolest Record Label on Earth”, and there’s a lot to try and cram into one movie, but there are some acts who are conspicuous by their absence: there’s no mention at all of Super Furry Animals, and they once hired a tank and drove it through London to promote one of their records, which surely would have been visual gold.

Similarly, Teenage Fanclub barely get a mention, overlooking how integral to the label’s success their Bandwagonesque album was. I think I heard a snatch of this in the background in one scene, mind:

Teenage Fanclub – What You Do To Me

McGee is presented as an egotistical chancer, who repeatedly got lucky by being at events where unsigned bands just happened to be playing, and I’m not sure that’s entirely true.

But it’s here that I found the one true highlight of them film, when McGee’s own band are playing in a dingy backstreet London boozer, the Television Personalities invade the stage and take over, perform one song, announce “Here’s our second song. It’s the same as the first one, BUT LOUDER!” once it’s finished, before launching into exactly the same song, which they do indeed played louder than they had the first time.

This song:

Television Personalities – Part-Time Punks

If you’re at entry level, know nothing about Creation Records or Alan McGee, then I’d recommend Creation Stories as a stepping-on point and nothing more.

Otherwise, I’d say avoid at all costs. Stick with the 2010 Upside Down: The Creation Records Story documentary instead.

More soon.

Saturday Night at the Movies

Okay, so it was Friday afternoon, but, partly driven by the current pandemic crisis, I decided to watch Shaun of the Dead. Again.

I say partly, because earlier in the week I was catching up with some podcasts, and listened to an episode of Rule of Three, where “…comedy writers Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris talk to people who make comedy about something funny that they love…” where they discussed this very film with guest Tom Neenan, who has written for the likes of Have I Got News For You, The Last Leg and The Mash Report.

In said podcast, a hypothesis was floated which had never struck me before about Shaun…, and it was this: when the film first came out in 2004, most of us knew it’s stars and it’s director from the Channel 4 flatshare sitcom Spaced. And for the first twenty minutes or so, the film is a flatshare sitcom transferred to the big screen. And for those twenty minutes, it’s like the flatshare sitcom movie is under attack from a horror film; that there’s an attempt to hijack the film and it’s happening in the background.

And that fascinated me, so I watched it again. And they’re right.

And then, this dropped:

A call-back to the movie and to this bit:

There’s loads of call-backs in the movie to things which were said earlier (…”Erm….The first one…”, “Exacerbate….”, “I’ll stop doing ’em when you stop laughing…”, “It’s on random!”, “Glad somebody made it!”) as well as absolutely oodles of other film references. Look at this:

No, you’re right. Some of those really don’t work. And they missed out loads.

As I watched, I was reminded at one point of a something I started writing a few months ago, but never posted. Yes, I know the idea of there being some quality control in what I do here may seem laughable, but trust me, it exists.

Anyway, the unpublished post in question was called: Mel Gibson Ruined Films For Me.

And I wasn’t even talking about his drunken, racist rants. Or the generally terrible films he’s in.

No, he’d ruined films for me a long time before that.

I’ll explain in a minute, but first, some background.

When I wrote it, I’d been to the cinema a couple of times.

Firstly to see 1917, a film the plotline of which reminded me very much of an early Mel Gibson film, Gallipoli (1981) and which I – correctly – decided I needed to see in its natural habitat (1917, not Gallipoli), rather than wait for it to pop on on Netflix.

Since I’ve mentioned the plotline of 2017, here it is, with no spoilers. as described by Wikipedia:

On 6 April 1917, aerial reconnaissance has observed that the German army, which has pulled back from a sector of the Western Front in northern France, is not in retreat but has made a strategic withdrawal to the new Hindenburg Line, where they are waiting to overwhelm the British with artillery. In the British trenches, with field telephone lines cut, two young British soldiers, Lance Corporals Tom Blake and Will Schofield, a veteran of the Somme, are ordered by General Erinmore to carry a message to Colonel Mackenzie of the Second Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, calling off a scheduled attack that would jeopardise the lives of 1,600 men, including Blake’s brother Lieutenant Joseph Blake.

And so the fun starts, as the two set off to try and get to the front and deliver the message. There is so much jeopardy here: will they make it in time, if at all? And if they do, will they be able to save Blake’s brother? And will Mackenzie prove to be receptive to the message or is he now a power-crazed, trench-crazy Brando-esque Colonel Kurtz type figure?

There will be no spoilers here, but rather a mention of the special effect you’ve probably read about already; the whole film is shot as if done in one take, with the camera swooping round and tracking the main characters’ efforts to glorious effect.

It is, simply, a magnificent piece of film-making; it’s around two hours long, but felt like half an hour, even though I spent most of those two hours literally on the edge of my seat.

When I wrote about Yesterday, I described it as “…practically a Who’s Who of current British comedy acting talent…” and the same applies here, minus the comedy element. Here are some British box-office big-hitters, albeit in short cameos: there’s Colin Firth (who you don’t really get to see at all); there’s Mark Strong; and Andrew “Hot Priest from Fleabag” Scott; 2019’s other dreamboat Richard Madden, and finally Benedict Cumberbatch.

I can’t say much more about it without giving away some fairly major plot points, so I won’t. Suffice it to say, it’s a truly breath-taking piece of cinema.

But where is Mel Gibson? I hear you ask.

Well, the other film I went to see was another I thought I should see in the cinema, the latest in the Star Wars franchise: The Rise of Skywalker.

I was rather bored by the second in the reboot series, The Last Jedi, but my love of the films was reignited by watching Rogue One: A Star Wars Story over Christmas, which I thought was pretty great (if a little predictable).

The Rise of Skywalker delivered exactly what I expected it to: all the old favourites, even the actually dead ones – Leia (Carrie Fisher), Tarkin (Peter Cushing) – were there, along with the obligatory X-Fighter vs TIE Fighter aerial battle, the more than occasional light-sabre scrap, and of course the obligatory exceedingly clunky dialogue.

So, here’s the point where you if don’t want any films ruining, you should stop reading.

Still here? Ok, don’t blame me.

In the early 1990s I watched Lethal Weapon 2. I’d not seen Lethal Weapon but rightly suspected that I didn’t need to know the plot of the first to be able to enjoy the second.

About fifteen minutes into the film, Gibson’s character, Riggs (I think), for no apparent reason, demonstrates that he is able to disclocate his shoulder whenever needed. Not a skill which is likely to ever be of any use, one would think.

Until, in the climax to film – and I guess I’m obliged to say SPOILER ALERT again here, even though this film came out in 1989 – Riggs is captured by the baddies, trussed up in a straight-jacket and chucked in some water. A dock or something, it’s not important, other than the knowledge that because he is wearing the straight-jacket, some jeopardy is introduced, as he is likely to drown.

Except we all know that he can magically dislocate his shoulder, and thus distengale himself from the straight-jacket and thereafter catch or kill all the bad guys. Which is exactly what happens.

And so now, whenever I’m watching a film and one of the main characters, apropos of nothing, suddenly demonstrates a skill they have, for seemingly no reason at all since it’s disclosure doesn’t appear to move the plot along at that point, then my alarm bells start ringing.

There’s one of these in The Rise of Skywalker, a moment where the unitiated might sit there wondering why Rey had just done that. I sat there thinking: ‘Mel fucking Gibson’ because I knew it would crop up again.

And it did, surprise, surprise. At quite an important moment, you’ll be surprised to hear.

I probably wouldn’t mind quite so much on this occasion if it wasn’t exactly the same trick as perfomed by Paul the alien in the 2011 Simon Pegg/Nick Frost/Seth Rogan movie called…um….Paul, which I love a lot more than this or any of the rebooted Star Wars movies. Ask me to pick which one I enjoyed the most and I’d have to say The Force Awakens, but only because it was practically a remake of the original Star Wars film, which back in 1977 had me leaping out of the cinema pretending I owned a light saber and could fly the Millenium Falcon.

Perhaps it’s about time I admitted that I’m not twelve anymore.

Let’s not go there. But, the mention of Pegg and Frost brings me back full circle, to the thing that happens in Shaun of the Dead which tramples all over that Gibson tradition.

For early in the film, when we’re still in sitcom territory, dumped by his girlfriend, Shaun/Pegg tries to get to see her, by climbing up the outside of the block of flats she lives in. He fails, but then later, when faced with disaster he has to do it, and whilst being chased by zombies (sorry, we don’t call them that) the undead, he manages it.

This film knows what it’s doing, what it’s referencing, and what it’s challenging.

I may have read too much into it, of course.

Time for a tune, and I’m not going for the obvious one, because here’s Simon Pegg to talk about it:

No, instead I’m plumping for this absolute belter:

The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster – Mister Mental

More movie based musings soon.

Saturday Night at the Movies

I went to watch Joker.

Just as Yesterday was not the sort of film I would go and see, so the same applies here. I’m just not into that whole cartoon superhero world. I couldn’t give a monkeys what happens at the end of Avengers Endoscopy or whatever the last one was called. Until Deadpool 2 came along, I hadn’t visited my local fleapit to watch a comic-book inspired movie since way back in 1978 when I went to see Christopher Reeve as Superman. You know, when I was a kid.

Actually, I did go and see Logan, the last/latest in the Wolverine franchise. Thought it was okay. Nothing special, just okay.

And the reason for going to see that, and now Joker, was because my interest has been piqued by the fact that these films seem to be stepping away from the world where our caped hero battles and inevitably triumphs over the bad guy, and stepping into darker terrain, where the darkness and a credible back story take precedence over Biff! Bang! Pow!’s.

The Creation – Biff Bang Pow!

I’d read a lot about Joker in advance, and was aware that it has divided audiences, some thinking it to be brilliant, others believing it over long and self-indulgent. Joaquin Phoenix plays the lead character, so I was expecting the latter – has he made a good film since Walk the Line? I’m struggling to think of one.

I mentioned to someone at work that I was going to see it, and he grunted that he wasn’t interested, considering it “a rip-off of Heath Ledger”. I was tempted to point out that if they were going to try and cash-in on Ledger’s Oscar winning performance then they probably wouldn’t have waited the eleven years since The Dark Knight to do it. Rather, I thought the reverse to be true: leaving it so long to try and stop comparisons being made was probably the idea. And besides, I’m sure had they been able to cast Ledger in Joker, then they would have, but I gather his agent has stopped sending him to auditions.

Mind you, this is the same work colleague who, apropos of nothing asked me earlier the same day “Why do they give ugly birds a pleasant personality?”

My response was: “Welcome to the 1970s!”

He came back at me with: “Bloody PC, you can’t say anything anymore”.

“No,” I replied, “it’s nothing to do with political correctness, it’s just most people prefer not to say offensive things anymore. And that sentence had at least three offensive things in it.”

He laughed.

“Go on then,” I ventured, despite myself. “What’s the punchline?”

“There isn’t one!” he exclaimed, still laughing.

“Jesus, that was the punchline?” I exasperatedly sighed.

I digress, but not without reason. Being funny is difficult. Being a stand up comedian even more so. We’ll come onto this later.

Regardless of my work colleague’s sage (by which I mean outdated) words, I booked a seat and then read something which mentioned the name of the director – Todd Phillips; not a name which immediately rang any bells, so I popped to imDb to see what else had his name attached to it. The list almost made me unbook my ticket: Old School, The Hangover (Part I, II and – Jesus wept, they made three of them?? – III), Project X…the signs were not good.

But I decided to give it a go. Mostly so I had something to write about here. I suffer for my art, see.

Here is a spoiler-free synopsis: Phoenix plays Archie Fleck, a man who by day earns his crust dressing as a clown and performing wacky moves to promote local stores, by night he looks after his housebound mother, and fantasizes about appearing on his favourite late night chat show, hosted by Murray Frankling (Robert De Niro).

Here, if I may interject the plot spoiling for a moment, was one of the things which impressed me in the film: I had read how, when writing the script, Phillips had been inspired by the films of Martin Scorcese, and this reference to 1983’s The King of Comedy was not wasted on these eyes and ears. It wasn’t overplayed, it was just there, hiding in plain sight for all those relatively well versed in cinema history.

Back to the plot: we see how Fleck’s life unravels: he is beaten up by kids whilst working; his analyst has to end their sessions due to governmental cuts, and with them go his medication; he loses his job.

Added to this, you are aware that there is a blurring of the lines between reality and Fleck’s hallucinatory imaginigs. At first this is clear from him envisaging how he is picked from the studio audience at one of Frankling’s shows, whilst he is in fact watching the show at home with his mother, but as the the film progresses, one becomes less sure about what is real and what is in Fleck’s head.

This culminates in the film’s denouement, where he is invited to appear on Frankling’s chat show, only you’re not entirely clear whether or not that’s true or not. Until you are very sure.

But all of this confusion does lead to one really good, Sixth Sense-esque “Oh, so that‘s not real either!” moment, which I won’t ruin for you.

As for the bits where he is trying to do stand-up, well there’s only really one scene, and much has been made of the fact that one of the two jokes he tells has been stolen from elsewhere. I certainly heard Bob Monkhouse tell it (at least) once. And that’s probably the point: his first (self-written) joke gets no laughs, his second is stolen, a guaranteed ice-breaker which gets a similar reaction. It’s all part of his life, and even his aspirational life, unravelling.

The one thing that bugged me about it was this: there is a lot of emphasis on the fact that Fleck has mental health issues, as does, it transpires, his mother. And that is what is painted as being the issue, that people with such problems are an often violent concern. And that simply isn’t true. But maybe I’m reading too much into it.

It’a not terribly clear exactly when the film is set; there is a scene where a Charlie Chaplin film is being played, but then to counter that answerphones exist. But it doesn’t really matter when it’s set, because there’s a message here, one which comments on mob culture jumping onto the actions of one deranged figurehead, blindly following them despite their obvious-to-everyone-else flaws. The target of the rioting protestors just happens to be the wealthy, and in particular the Wayne family are, literally, in the cross-hairs: it’s pretty well handled – you don’t really notice the surname until one particular scene – but the link between Fleck and his soon-to-be adversary has its roots explained, even if we don’t get to the point where they’re actually locking horns here.

Overall, I came away from the cinema having rather enjoyed it; I embraced the darkness and I think I like it, to misquote Katy Perry.

Which leads me on to the soundtrack. To be honest I found most of the original music annoying, sounding like a light aircraft hoving into earshot and out again.

But as for the other tunes used? Well, I was particularly impressed by the juxtaposition of these two tunes seamlessly segue waying into each other, and thereby highlighting the difference between light and dark:

Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass – Tijuana Taxi

Cream – White Room

(R.I.P. Ginger)

NB: I’m pretty sure that’s the Herb Alpert track that is used, but curiously I can find no mention of it in any OST searches.

Which leads me on to a certain song which pops up in the film, and some criticism it has received in the redtops in the past week or so.

The song in question is Rock and Roll (Parts One and Two) by Gary Glitter, and already you can sense quite why the sensationalism.

For the inclusion of said song in the film had the usual papers – The Sun, The Daily Mail, etc etc etc – frothing at the mouth because convicted paedophile Glitter would earn (a lot of) royalties from its use.

Now. I’m not about to start trying to defend a child molester, but there’s someone else to be considered here, namely Mike Leander, or, more accurately, since he’s dead, the estate of Mike Leander.

See, Leander co-wrote that song with Glitter, and I’ll wager since Glitter got put away, his family haven’t made a single penny out of his efforts for the past twenty years or so, such has been the blanket refusal to play any of their records.

Plus, nobody seemed to give a monkey’s when this record, which samples heavily from the same tune, was a smash hit back in the late 1980s:

The Timelords – Doctorin’ The Tardis

I’ve tried really hard to find out whether either got a writing credit and/or any royalties from that, with no luck, but since it plays such a major part in the track I imagine they got something out of it.

They certainly did for this one, since both Glitter and Leander have co-writer credits on it:

Oasis – Hello

Funny, I don’t remember a peep from the tabloids about either of those at the time.

It’s almost like they were looking for something this week to deflect attention away from Brexit, backstop alternatives, Boris and the American former pole dancer he’s alleged to have had an affair with and – more importantly – ensured (again, allegedly) public funding was funnelled into her company as she obtained clearance to go on some overseas business trips with Johnson, despite having permission blocked previously, to distract our attention.

Yup, I can crowbar an anti-Brexit comment into pretty much anything.

See.You thought I’d do something utterly predictable like posting The Steve Miller Band’s The Joker, didn’t you?

Credit me with at least trying to post the unobvious, won’t you?

The Beat – Tears of a Clown

Oopsies!

Anyway. Joker. I liked it. Go see.

More soon.

Saturday Night at the Movies

It’s ok, I’m not ill or back in hospital or anything…I just decided to take a few days off from writing the usual tosh I come up with here.

But what a few days….the Ashes glory (for now)…Parliament getting itself all prorogued…and I went to the cinema.

I imagine all of the above will get further mentions at some point over the coming days (OK, I plan to mention them all), but for now I’ll focus on the latter.

On Thursday evening I had my first IMAX experience. I know, I know, about time. Truth be told, I didn’t plan on having this one; regular readers will now that I have one of those “Pay monthly, see as many films as you like” set ups, which I rarely take advantage of as much as I could because…well, it may be prepaid but that shouldn’t mean I feel obliged to go watch something with Gerard Butler in it, ta very much. (see also my other pet hates: Keifer Sutherland and Julia Roberts)

And so, on Tuesday, as there is a film out at the moment that I really wanted to see, I cranked up the movie theatre app I use, checked out the times, cursed that there wasn’t a showing starting post-work any earlier than 19:30 hours, bit the bullet and pressed “Book Seats”.

After selecting my seat of choice (aisle seat, towards the back), I was surprised to see it wanted to charge me £4.20 for the privilege of seeing the film in question.

Huh?

I cancelled the purchase, and tried a different film. No additional charge. And it was then that the penny dropped (all four hundred and twenty of them), that I was being charged extra because the film was being shown on the IMAX screen.

Ordinarily, I would have then waited until the film went over to boring old standard screenings, but I figured that I really wanted to see this one, so I’d stump up.

At work on Thursday, I mentioned to the chap who sits next to me at work – a film buff, I didn’t just collar him – that I was going to see the film in question. He pointed out the length to me (stop it!) and I told him it was just over 2 hours, which was fine. A quick check confirmatory check in iMDB clarified that it was actually 2 hours and 40 minutes.

A visit to the local supermarket to stock up on munchies was going to be required.

So, in case you haven’t worked it out yet, the film I went to see was Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film (or eighth, if you count Kill Bill Parts 1 and 2 as one film, which I don’t), Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.

Now, I love Tarantino films, but I had realised I hadn’t actually been to the cinema to see one since Jackie Brown back in 1997.

And I’ve still not seen his last film, The Hateful Eight, at all, despite it having been in My List on Netflix for at least a year now. Well, I’ve seen the first twenty minutes or so, before I got bored as nothing had happened, bar Jennifer Jason Leigh getting punched in the face a couple of the times, which didn’t really float my boat, if I’m honest.

I’d read nothing but good reviews of QT’s latest offering though, so I figured it was about time I reacquainted myself with his works. I read an article which ranked his other films, and I was shocked to see that on said list Reservior Dogs and Pulp Fiction weren’t #1 and #2. (I’ve searched for the article again in advance of writing this, to confirm what was, but I can’t find it and can’t remember what they chose as #1, but whatever it was, they were wrong: how can any review of Tarantino’s films not conclude that those two films are his finest (interchangeable positions, I must admit)…?

So I watched Reservoir Dogs again last weekend, and it still stands up. There were a couple of things I noticed this time around – and it’s great I can watch a film which I first saw back in the early 1990s, have watched many times since, and still notice new things about it now – is the sound. Set predominantly in a disused warehouse as it is, I loved the echoey speech, and that you can hear better what someone is saying the closer the camera gets to him (they’re all “hims”, there are no female characters in Reservoir Dogs, we’ll come on to that later); also the many scenes where several conversations are taking place and you can focus in on any one of them, dip in and out, and yet nobody is trampling on anyone else’s lines.

Recently, I’d posited to a couple of people – my brother, some people at work – that people of a certain age must be really confused by adverts for motor insurance which feature Harvey Keitel dressed only in a tuxedo, a dodgy tache and a Noo Yoik accent. To folks of my generation, it’s clear: he’s reprising his role as Mr Wolf, the Mafia fixer from Pulp Fiction, only now he sees an insurance-related issue and he fixes that. But anyone who hasn’t seen Pulp Fiction must be looking at those ads thinking: “Who’s this guy? Why is he dressed like that, and why does he like his coffee with lots of cream and lots of sugar?”

Take my parents (please!). They have never seen a Tarantino film, and that’s fine because I don’t think many of them are the sort of film they would enjoy. My brother and I discussed letting them watch one: it can’t be Reservoir Dogs, as my father can’t stand the sight of blood, and there’s a lot of it in that one. And in pretty much all of them. Except Pulp Fiction. I mean, there’s a bit in Pulp Fiction, but not lots. Not main-character-shot-in-the-stomach-in-the-second-scene-and-left-to-bleed-out-on-a-ramp-in-a-disused-warehouse-for-the-rest-of-the-film-while-somebody-else-gets-their-ear-cut-off amount of blood, but there’s a bit.

Someone else I mentioned this to said: “What about the whole Zed and the anal rape scene?” I shrugged; they may wince, but I reckon they’ll be alright with that.

Mum, Dad: our Christmas viewing is sorted.

There is very little blood split in Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood, and I’m not sure if it’s wrong for me to wish there was.

Ok, so avoiding any spoilers, here’s the plot: it’s 1969 (a bloody good year) and Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a fading TV star, forever filming pilots which never get picked up, or making one-off appearances in other people’s shows, playing the baddie, and getting his ass royally whupped.

Throughout life he is accompanied by Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) – note, not Clint Boon, or that would have been a very different film – his stuntman, although it soon becomes perfectly obvious that Booth no longer gets any fall guy work, he is essentially Dalton’s driver, his go-fer, his rent-a-buddy.

This is made clear by a scene which has no purpose whatsoever, except to show that Booth will indeed climb up on to a roof to repair Dalton’s TV aerial, and in the process take his shirt off.

Dalton is approached by a new agent, Marvin Shwarz (Al Pacino), who thinks Dalton would be perfect for the burdgeoning spaghetti Western scene in Italy, and wants him to fly out and give it a try.

Dalton fears this is a sign that he is washed-up, and so takes a part in another Western, desperate to prove his acting chops. Which he does, and then takes the Itaian lira anyway.

And that takes up pretty much all of the first two hours.

Mixed up with that is the incidental news that Dalton lives in a prefab just outside the walls of director Roman Polanski’s gated apartment, where he lives with his young wife Sharon Tate.

Now, anyone of my age probably knows how this pans out. Any moment now, a character called Charles Manson will appear and this could get interesting. And sure enough, there he is, goofing up to the Polanski residence, ostensibly looking for a couple of the Wilson Beach Boys.

And that’s the last we see of Manson.

But we’ll shy away from that for a moment, and concentrate on Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie. Quite simply: she’s not in it enough. She has three big scenes:

  1. She arrives at a party and dances. This scene is only there so that Steve McQueen, played by Damian Lewis… (?!?!), can explain to us/his associate/us the relationship between Tate/Polanski/Jay Sebring (Tate’s ex).

2. She visits a movie theatre which is showing a movie she is in with Dean Martin, and asks the cashier if she can come in for free as she’s in the film;

3. The end scene, which I won’t spoil for you.

Sure, she pops up in the film every now and then, generally greeting people with a hug, but Robbie is criminally underused. The scene where she watches herself on screen in the cinema (sorry, a spoiler: she gets let in) is an absolute joy; she giggles and nervously looks around to assess the audience’s reaction, before relaxing, kicking her shoes off, and putting her feet on the backs of the seat in front.

Robbie absolutely nails the few scenes she’s in, and she should have been in more. But that’s the problem with Tarantino films: he ain’t that great at writing female characters.

Those first two hours really could have been edited down and still explain the Dalton/Booth dynamic and give Robbie more to do, but hey ho, what do I know, I’m not a millionaire film director.

And that’s another issue with Tarantino: given carte blanche, nobody is reigning him in. That’s why Kill Bill is spread over two parts and that’s why Once Upon A Time… could have been cut to around the two hour mark and nobody would have complained. I hear rumours that there is a nine-hour version which I won’t be watching.

The other truly great scene is when Pitt’s character (Booth) picks up an underage hitch-hiker and gives her a lift to where she squats with her Family, on a disused film-lot where Booth used to work, and knows the guy who still owns it.

It’s a genuinely tense 20-30 or so minutes (or so it seemed) as it becomes apparant that he has wandered into the home of The Family, the group which Charles Manson assembled around him, and for a while there’s a brooding feeling that something is about to happen – and since this is a Tarantino film, it probably ain’t gonna be too pretty.

No spoilers.

If you follow Tarantino films – and if you do then you’ve probably already seen this, so I won’t be spoiling it for you – I’d place Once Upon A Time… in the same bracket as his WWII flick Inglorious Basterds in that it’s an historical film based in reality, where rather than show how things did pan out he posits an alternative reality where what we know happens doesn’t. And while the alternative is, in typical Tarantino style, quite brutal and unpleasant, I’m not sure it’s any less pleasant than what actually happened.

And then there’s the music.

I’ve written before about how songs used in films can almost become an additional character.

Nowadays, if you hear the George Baker Selection’s Little Green Bag or Stealers Wheel’s Stuck in the Middle With You, chances are you’ll be reminded of Reservoir Dogs.

Similarly, hear Dick Dale and His Del-Tones’ Misirlou or Dusty Springfield’s Son Of A Preacher Man or even Urge Overkill’s version of the Neil Diamond gem Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon or Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell and if you’ve seen Pulp Fiction then the scenes they appear in become your immediate frame of reference.

And although Once Upon A Time… has a great soundtrack the same won’t happen. It sounds kinda forced to me, like knowing the commercial possibilities of a Tarantino-soundtrack, he tries to cram as much in as possible. But none of the songs really latch on, take hold, in the film in the way that they were allowed to in his older movies. The songs are clearly a soundtrack, rather than an integral part of of the movie as they were back in the …Dogs and …Fiction days.

What I mean is this: on the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack, dead-pan, existenstial one-liner comedy God Steven Wright plays the DJ, and it’s brilliant. There’s the same on the Once Upon A Time… soundtrack (and I know, I bought it before I saw the film) only now it’s not Wright it’s just a radio jock, and thus half of the appeal is broken. And in the film, not one song is given enough time or space to take hold, to really get a grip in the way that they’d been allowed to in his older films, so whilst the songs are still great, they become forgettable in the context.

In twenty years time, I won’t be hearing Deep Purple’s Hush and saying: “Oh yeh, this is the bit in the film where they drive around for a bit and then park.”

These songs are all in the film, are all brilliant, but literally blink (or whatever the not-listening equivalent is) and you’ll miss them:

Roy Head & The Traits – Treat Her Right

Deep Purple – Hush

Paul Revere & the Raiders – Hungry

Buchanan Brothers – Son of a Lovin’ Man

José Feliciano – California Dreamin’

Neil Diamond – Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show

In summary: I liked, but it was a bit long and the ending (after the bloody ending) sucked.

More soon.